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New York faith leaders link arms to share joy and light, help children this holiday season

The Church is collaborating with other religious organizations on more than 60 projects that will serve more than 42,000 children in the New York metro area

NEW YORK CITY — Faith leaders in New York City are uniting this holiday season to bless the lives of children in the greater New York metro area — sharing not only joy, but also light.

Many of those leaders connected Monday, Nov. 27, at a special reception on Times Square hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this diverse area — at a time when news headlines highlight war and divisions — the leaders of more than 60 churches or other religiously affiliated groups spoke of sharing light in a world that is increasingly dark.  

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expressed deep gratitude for each leader and the work they do to “Light the World.”

“People who feel accountable to God feel a special responsibility to bless others,” he said.

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Sister Mary Cook laugh with Mariano Rivera and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik during a reception in New York City.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, laugh with Mariano Rivera, who was inducted into the Major League Baseball hall of fame in 2019, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The reception was an opportunity to thank New York faith leaders for collaboration that will bless more than 42,000 children in the area in coming weeks. Less than a month ago, as part of the Church’s Light the World initiative, Latter-day Saint leaders reached out in New York, discovering more than 60 meaningful projects involving different organizations and faiths — Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, A.M.E., Adventist, Lutheran, Episcopal, United Church of Christ, and others.

Each project will require enormous energy and lots of people, but will be a blessing to children, said Elder Cook. The collaboration highlights the good that religious groups can do when they work together to make a difference.

“In this room, we have people who are working day and night to bless our Heavenly Father’s children,” he said. “And we are all sons and daughters of a loving Father in Heaven. We are brothers and sisters.”

When people work hard and collaborate together, “there is something special about just saying, ‘Thank you,’” said Elder Cook.

Reverend Que English speaks during a reception in New York City.
The Reverend Que English, director of the Partnership Center in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The Rev. Que English, who has served as the director of the Partnership Center of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2021, said the collaboration is proof that there is nothing in the world more powerful than love.

“How do we come together to bring hope, to show love for all humanity? How do we bridge the divide? How do we create that model for all the world to see?” she questioned. “This here tonight is a model.”

Hanadi Doleh, the director of community partnerships at the Interfaith Center of New York, detailed recent collaboration. A mosque in the Bronx that hosts anywhere from 10 to 120 West African asylum seekers needed food and other supplies, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stepped in, donating 1,500 pounds of food, she said. Other religious groups offered to cook the food and deliver it to the mosque.

Elder David L. Buckner talks with Father Brian McWeeney during a reception in New York City.
Elder David L. Buckner, an Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks with Father Brian McWeeney during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that type of unity is typical of New York’s faith leaders.

He recalled a time shortly after terrorists attacked New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Christians in the city welcomed a tall Christmas tree — much taller than the Hanukkah menorah sharing the space. “However, a group of Christian carpenters volunteered to build a platform so that the Hanukkah Menorah and the Christmas tree were the exact same height.”

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The kids in New York City who will be served by the many service projects celebrated at the reception need three things, Rabbi Potasnik said. “They need a hand to hold. They need a shoulder upon which to lean. And, above all, the example from which to learn.”

Sharing the light of a candle does not diminish the integrity of the original flame, Rabbi Potasnik said.

 “We can give to one another, and we don’t have to compromise our identity,” he said. “We can realize that, ‘Yes, we can have our different beliefs.’ But we also belong with one spiritual birth certificate that is the same. As the children of God, we all belong to one family.”

Mt. Sinai United Christian Church Bishop Victor A. Brown and Elder David L. Buckner of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, chat during a reception in New York City.
Bishop Victor A. Brown, senior pastor of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church, and Elder David L. Buckner, Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, chat during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Bishop Victor A. Brown, the senior pastor of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church in Staten Island, said religious collaboration is much like a prism, which makes it possible to see light in various colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

“If you were to subtract one of those components that comprise light, you would not have light,” he said. “There is more to unify us than there is to divide us.”

“And so as we move forward in the days ahead, in this world full of chaos, full of confusion, full of division — in the words of Mahatma Gandhi — let us ‘seek to be the change we wish to see in the world.’”

Elder David L. Buckner, an Area Seventy in New York City, said amid complicated times, connecting is becoming increasingly more difficult. “So I feel very honored tonight to see so many different people in the room — different experiences, different life stories, different faiths and different journeys coming together to light the world.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Sister Mary Cook talk with Rev. Dr. Protopresbyter Nicolas Kazarian and Imam Musa Kabbath during a reception in New York City.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, talk with Rev. Dr. Protopresbyter Nicolas Kazarian and Imam Musa Kabbath during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The current efforts to serve children are possible because each faith tradition and organization has “boots on the ground,” and established practices of serving others. “You know where the needs are, you know where people are hurting.”

The world is filled with noise that suggests that “people of faith are no longer able to come together and matter,” said Elder Buckner. He is a witness that it not only matters, but it is also “at the foundation of what will truly make change in the future.”

When people who are different find commonality, it creates “a tapestry that is far more beautiful than we could ever experience on our own.”

“So tonight, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for your commitment to seek out people who are discouraged, who are brokenhearted, who are lost. I want to thank you for your example of faith and demonstration that faith really matters. I want to thank you for your light in a world that is increasingly dark.”

Attendees listen to speakers during a reception for various faiths in New York City.
Attendees listen to speakers during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Manhattan New York Temple President G. Kem Nixon and Elder Marcus B. Nash chat during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.
Manhattan New York Temple President G. Kem Nixon and Elder Marcus B. Nash chat during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Elder Quentin L. Cook speaks during a reception in New York City.
Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks during a reception in New York City on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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